So I’m fascinated by strange old men. I’m not entirely sure why. Let me think through it a bit.
There’s the fact that they’re outcasts, and I’m uncertain as to whether this is by choice or by happenstance.
There is the link with alcohol. Is it a causal relationship? But which way around?
There is their great thirst for attention. And how usually when they get it they’re actually quite nice about it… they are pleasant and grateful for the company by and large. Even if their talking is nonsensical, they feel good to be able to share it.
Whenever I see and watch a strange old man I can’t help but wonder if he has a family. Both because I wonder how long it took him to get so strange and because I wonder if you can be a strange old man and still have close ties.
I’m also interested in them because it does seem a heterogeneous group, for example the drunk man on the train. Or the lucid Swiss “bum”. Does smelly clothes identify you as a bum? Does not wearing shoes? Or being completely hammered much of the day? I guess it doesn’t. There’s also always the possibility that it is the expression of an extreme need for independence.
So a strange old man is not necessarily a bum. Certainly the American artist had a steady living. The guy on the train was a wild card because he looked reasonable when no great action or being of himself was required. Watching him, I really wondered… What is his destination? Will he have people who will give him warmth and their unguarded selves in return for his visit? Will he have no one happy to see him? Or will he have relatives who will stand there thinking “Oh god, not again. Why do we have to be here for this…….” Or will he have friends at a bar somewhere? Are they friends? And I think I would wonder the same thing even for the American man, who was isolated in his own way.
It’s in my nature to be curious about who they are and how they got there. And about what it is they want for themselves. But when I was in Nuremberg I bought the book Are you somebody?, an autobiography by Irish Times columnist Nuala O’Faolain, and one of its central themes is the plague of alcoholism in Ireland. I want to know, I always want to know the story, the life behind and within it all… but reading this book really scared me. Who knows, maybe alcoholism wouldn’t figure greatly in the stories of the strange old men. Either way, this book reminded me that although I do want to know, finding out the truth alone could take a while to recover from.
I don’t know if I’ve really gone anywhere with this. Boiling it down my questions when I watch them are basically these two: What does it take to get there? and Why does he want to be there?